Most of us know wool comes from sheep, and perhaps we think it is always white and all the same: this series of articles may make you think again!
Lambs double in size in the last month in the ewe, which is a real challenge to the ewe to keep up with this as well as the additional situation of less room inside! So feeding more frequently, twice or even three times a day, will regulate intake better and make it more effective. Insufficient food can lead to dead lambs, or ewes, or twin lamb disease, poor quality colostrum and lower milk production. Too much concentrated food can reduce the pH in the rumen, so quality is as important as quantity, and forage is key, with concentrates as a supplement. Added yeast has been shown to be useful in improving colostrum quality and reduces the build-up of lactic acid in the rumen, which helps increase milk yield and quality.
Soil Photo from Emaze.com
We know that the correct minerals and trace elements are essential for good health of sheep, goats and alpacas – but how do we know what to do about this?
Firstly we need soil tests. These are easier than you might think – you should take about 30 samples diagonally across the field, mix in a bucket to get a representative sample of the whole field then put some in a bag to post off for a soil test. Ideally, soil testing should be done every two years, as rain, grazing and hay or silage cutting will all affect the soil balance.
The lambs grow wool quite quickly and it is the finest and softest they will produce (even from Nathalie!).
So here they are last week:
In my (Sue's) experience, the biggest single factor in health of sheep is the correct balance of minerals, which permits their immune systems to function optimally. Thus for example, most sheep should not have much copper, though all need some, with downland and Texel sheep being particularly susceptible to copper poisoning, fine-woolled sheep intermediate, while Gotlands and Finnsheep are more tolerant than other breeds and indeed need a greater amount.
This is why it is important never to feed sheep with pig or poultry feed, which contains too much copper. My sheep broke into the feed store and gorged themselves on pig food once and the greediest had the worst hangovers – luckily a vitamin injection was sufficient to get them back into a state of normality (as far as Gotlands are ever normal …).
Though not everyone keeps sheep for meat, those who do will be aware that there are by-products from the abattoir which in most cases do not come back to the producer. The most obvious are the skins, along with horns and offal usually. Abattoirs sell these products elsewhere into the relevant trade but is possible to get skins back for tanning.
There are a few areas of red tape that have to be considered when sending sheepskins to the tannery. This is mainly due to the foot-and-mouth outbreak in 2001, along with strict rules regarding movement, skins were no longer permitted back on the holding that the animal came from. However, since then the Animal By-Product Regulations came into effect which allows individuals to collect fresh skins from the abattoir. In most cases an AB117 form needs to be complete to ensure that your skins are returned to be tanned.
Mules and Half Breds are the most common type of sheep in the country and make up a large majority of our commercial flocks. They are good mothers and can carry twins, triplets or even quads! They produce fast-growing, lively lambs which makes them perfect for the commercial meat market. As well as this, some types of Mule also produce high-quality fleeces due to the rams that have been used as sires.
Teeswater x Dalesbred = Masham
The Southdown sheep has been established in the UK for over two hundred years, but has been in its current ‘improved’ state since the 1800’s with the breed society being established in 1893. The fibre can be as fine as 29 microns (comparable to Shetland in some cases) and has been used for knitwear for many years.
The thought of flystrike can send a chill through any shepherd; though no illness or disease in sheep is pleasant, this is one of the worst. After a mild, very wet winter, the numbers of fly larvae around will be greater than usual, so it will be doubly important to watch out for strike and deal with it without risking compromise to the health of the sheep or the potential to use the wool.
The economic cost of flies is estimated to reduce milk yields by 0.5 litres per cow per day and growth rates by 0.3kg per head per day in cattle, which can easily be extrapolated to sheep - it's not just the damage to an animal which has been struck, but the irritation which distracts the whole flock from getting on with eating and growing.